The hiring picture in Singapore is evolving. Despite tens of thousands of new jobs being created during the fourth quarter of last year, the island nation seems to be losing ground with expatriates. Over the last two years, a growing number of expats have packed their bags and returned home.

Employment opportunities have certainly been problematic for expats since the start of the COVID crisis. Like most other places around the world, Singapore enacted strict rules intended to control the spread of coronavirus. With those rules came fewer employment opportunities. But even now, as the country seeks to get back to normal, expats aren’t sticking around. COVID continues to play a role in their unhappiness.

Strict Restrictions in Place

Singapore has traditionally been attractive to expats because it is a safe and comfortable place to live. It enjoys a strong economy along with plenty of employment opportunities. However, government officials have been extremely reluctant to give coronavirus any opportunity to spread. They have enacted some of the strictest regulations in the world.

A recent Reuters piece discussing expats leaving, refers to Singapore as being ‘risk-averse’. This seems to be description befitting most of Asia. For example, Hong Kong has taken a zero-risk approach to COVID. Their restrictions are even more severe than Singapore’s.

Nonetheless, expatriates deciding to leave Singapore to return home cite COVID restrictions as one of the deciding factors. Expatriate life isn’t necessarily easy to begin with. For some, a combination of being unable to travel and having very little to do in Singapore was enough to encourage them return home.

Not Getting Back In

The Reuters piece identified another problem foreign residents have been dealing with since the start of the pandemic: temporarily leaving the country and then not being able to get back in. Mind you, these are individuals with legal resident status. They leave to visit family members, for example, then find they are denied reentry.

That doesn’t work if you are an employer offering part time jobs for students or a foreign employee who goes home several times annually. So what does one do? Foreign-born residents have three options: stay put, take a chance on getting back in, or permanently leave to return home.

Companies Are Hiring

It is estimated that foreign residents make up approximately 20% of Singapore’s population. As those numbers decline and companies ramp up hiring, there are more jobs for native Singaporeans. Platforms like are stepping in to help locals find jobs quickly.

Expats leaving Singapore might ultimately mean more part time jobs for students and other local job seekers. But over the long term, could Singapore be headed for a talent drain as a result of fewer expats? Anything is possible. No job market is immune from talent shortages under the right circumstances.

As for the expats themselves, they seem to be benefiting from a tight labor market in the midst of the Great Resignation. While so many domestic employees are throwing up their hands and leaving their jobs, expats are going home and finding that their skills are in high demand. They are also finding environments that are less restrictive. Best of all, they are returning home to where their families are.

It’s highly unlikely that Singapore will lose its entire expat population. Hundreds of corporations doing business in Singapore, combined with tens of thousands of domestic businesses, offer too much opportunity. But the possibility that the city state could lose a significant portion of its expat population is very real. We’ll have to wait to see what the final number will be.